The longitudinal cascade development of cosmic-ray showers from observations of atmospheric Cerenkov radiation
This thesis is concerned with the measurement of the longitudinal cascade development of large cosmic-ray showers from observations of atmospheric Cerenkov radiation. The purpose of the measurements is to obtain information on the mass composition of the primary cosmic rays and on the gross features of the high-energy hadronic interactions. The characteristics of the Cerenkov light signal which are strongly coupled to the longitudinal shower development are described with reference to computer simulation results. An experiment designed to measure these characteristics was deployed in Dugway, Utah, U.S.A. between October 1977 and March 1980. Measurements were made in showers of primary energy 10(^15) – 10(^18) eV. Existing data analysis techniques have been refined and new procedures developed in order to optimise the reduction of the digital data. A detailed analysis is given of two aspects of the time structure of the Cerenkov light signal in showers of mean primary energy ~ 2 x 10(^17) eV. The measurements are interpreted in terms of the mean depth of electron cascade maximum and the fluctuations occurring between showers. The many results on the cascade development currently available from the Dugway data are summarised. Interpretation of the results is found to be possible in the framework of scaling-based models of the high energy hadronic interactions which incorporate an enhancement of the central-region multiplicity. This allows certain inferences to be made concerning the primary mass composition. Specifically, primaries of energy ~ 10(^16) eV appear to be predominantly heavy nuclei, and the mass composition becomes lighter with increasing primary energy until at least ~ 2 x 10(^17) eV. While no other single experiment has yet been in a position to corroborate these results, broad consistency is found between the Dugway results and the combined results from a number of other experiments.